Banking


Get Used to Virtual Banking

As foot traffic dwindles, bank branches are closing in record numbers, including those of large institutions and smaller banks. Net closures totaled nearly 1,500 branches last year, according to a recent report by SNL Financial, a financial data firm -- the most since it started monitoring closures in 2002. This is just the beginning of the slide. Celent, a consulting firm, forecasts declines of up to 40% over the next decade.

See Also: Why You Should Try Your Bank's Mobile App

Highly populated metro areas had the most closures last year, with Philadelphia, Chicago and New York dropping the largest number of branches. The biggest cuts are expected to come from large banks, such as PNC, which reduced the number of its branches by 6% in 2013, and SunTrust, which cut 8% of its branches.

But consolidation among community banks is expected to continue, and that will add to branch closures, too. (For investing opportunities in small banks, see Small Banks, Big Dividends.)

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All banks will be walking a tightrope, says Bob Meara, senior analyst at Celent. “They can’t disappear in any market, but they have to reduce density and increase digital transactions,” he says. Look for big banks to follow Bank of America’s lead and introduce ATMs that do more, whether it’s offering virtual tellers via Web cameras or pro­viding exact change. Some banks, such as Wells Fargo and Bank of America, have added online appointment scheduling for branches, and other banks will follow suit.

Smaller banks will focus on stepping up mobile options. Currently, 20% offer deposits via smart phone, and Cary Whaley, of Independent Community Bankers of America, estimates that 60% offer mobile banking, mostly via apps.

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